"Bully": MPAA Deems Reality of High School Too Violent for High Schoolers

BlogHer Original Post

It only takes two F-Bombs to grab an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. Bully -- the controversial documentary due out this month from director Lee Hirsch -- has six instances of "harsh language," so it's no surprise that the film was classified "Restricted" by the MPAA, limiting its audience to those ages 18 and up (unless accompanied by an adult guardian.) And yet, the film's R label seems unjust.

Here are the guidelines for an R-rated film, as laid out on the MPAA's website:

R — Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian. An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about R-rated motion pictures in determining their suitability for their children. Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures.

Bully is a film about high school students and their families affected by bullying. Real high school students, dealing with a real, deadly epidemic, and, like many of their contemporaries, these high school students practically punctuate with four-letter words. That's a no-no in the MPAA's book.

Seventeen-year-old Katy Butler wasn't spared violence or harsh language when she was cornered by bullies at age 12. So when Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein (the film's distributor) lost his appeal for the MPAA to reverse its decision, Katy decided to take action. She launched her change.org petition last week, in hopes that a people's appeal might change the MPAA's mind.

"I’m speaking out for all those students who suffer every day at school.

When I was in 7th grade, a few guys came up behind me while putting my books in my locker. They called me names and asked me why I even bothered to show my face at school because no one liked me. I ignored them because I was scared of what else they might say and who else they might tell if I stood up to them. When I went to shut my locker, they pushed me against the wall. Then they slammed my locker shut on my hand, breaking my fourth finger. I held back tears while I watched them run away laughing. I didn’t know what to do so I stood there, alone and afraid.

Butler goes on to note:

I can't believe the MPAA is blocking millions of teenagers from seeing a movie that could change -- and, in some cases, save -- their lives. According to the film's website, over 13 million kids will be bullied this year alone. Think of how many of these kids could benefit from seeing this film, especially if it is shown in schools?"

I, too, have to question the MPAA's decision -- which was, in fact, just one vote shy of a PG-13 rating. If the everyday realities kids are experiencing in school are too "mature" to show on screen, then isn't that reason itself that everyone, young or old, should be compelled see it? And to DO SOMETHING about it?

[trigger alert: trailer deals with bullying and teen suicide]

Katy Butler doesn't just believe that she can make a difference, she KNOWS she can. Just last year she was able to use change.org to convince her state legislature to remove exemptions from an anti-bullying bill. But this battle is ongoing. At the time of this post, the petition has reached 202,400 signatures, but needs almost another 100,000 to reach its 300,000 signature goal.

It's worth noting that The Weinstein Company re-released 2011 Best Picture Oscar Winner The King's Speech with its language altered in order to obtain a PG-13 rating -- giving pause to those who would cry "publicity stunt" on behalf of the distributor. And the film's director has issued an emotional plea as well:

I made BULLY for kids to see -– the bullies as well as the bullied. We have to change hearts and minds in order to stop this epidemic, which has scarred countless lives and driven many children to suicide. To capture the stark reality of bullying, we had to capture the way kids act and speak in their everyday lives -– and the fact is that kids use profanity. It is heartbreaking that the MPAA, in adhering to a strict limit on certain words, would end up keeping this film from those who need to see it most. No one could make this case more powerfully than Alex Libby [one of the subjects of the film, who appeared alongside Hirsch and producers at their official MPAA appeal], and I am so proud and honored that he [has stepped] forward to make a personal appeal.

Internet! We've stopped SOPA in its tracks, surely we can convince the MPAA that the story Bully has to tell sets it apart from an antiquated ratings system and the language kids are using on each other on a daily basis!

To sign Katy's petition and ask the MPAA to give Bully a PG-13 rating, click HERE.

To find out more about the film, visit TheBullyProject.com


Morgan (The818) is a blogger and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. She overshares her personal life - complete with curse words - at The818.com, talks art and design over at Cargoh.com, and tweets: @the818.


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